Idealism at Home and Abroad: Muhammad Khatami’s Utopian Quest for a Better World

Authored by: Jeremy Salt

The Ashgate Research Companion to Religion and Conflict Resolution

Print publication date:  November  2012
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409410898
eBook ISBN: 9781315613505
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041832


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On 21 September 1998, the Prime Minister of Iran, Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, took the rostrum at the fifty third session of the United Nations General Assembly and began speaking. ‘The light of human existence has been kindled with man’s longing for civilization’. These were his first words. He went on to say things that few in his audience would not have recognized as being true or self-evident. ‘True peace based on justice remains a scarcity’. In the developed world ‘so many still suffer from famine, illness and disease and some remain at the mercy of rulers who do not even take the trouble of pretending respect for democratic standards in enjoying popular support’. In his words, ‘the image of our world is indeed grim and repulsive’. In 1993 an even more dystopian world had been predicted by Samuel P. Huntington, when talking of a ‘clash of civilizations’ as possibly representing the next phase of human development. In his speech, building on the signs of hope he saw amidst the distress, Muhammad Khatami, responded to the ‘clash’ by calling called for a ‘dialogue among civilizations’. On 4 November 1998, the General Assembly nominated 2001 as the UN Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations but, on 11 September 2001, the aerial attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington appeared to show that Huntington was right. At a time when Khatami and others were calling for dialogue, the attacks on the US and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq underlined the role of brute force in world politics.

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